By The Times-Picayune Editorial Board
August 12, 2018
Trauma counseling is only available to a fraction of the children in New Orleans who need it, and services have been shrinking.
But the New Orleans City Council took an important step Thursday toward changing that dynamic. The council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the New Orleans Children and Youth Planning Board to develop a comprehensive approach for prevention and treatment of violence-induced trauma in the city.
The planning board's work must be done by August 1, 2019, and must include recommendations for new or expanded services for children exposed to violence, potential revenue to pay for those services and any changes needed in state law or city policy.
This is a vital mission. The well-being of thousands of children and families and of the city as a whole depend on the work of the planning board.
The City Council's action grew out of a NOLA.com | Times-Picayune series published in June on "The Children of Central City," which follows the lives of the 9- and 10-year-old A.L. Davis Park Panthers football team. These children have witnessed murders and lost family members to violence.
Between 2003 and 2017, 28 former members of the Panthers were killed.
Panthers coach Edgarson Shawn Scott told the council audience Thursday why he took over the team. "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my cousin, all to gun violence. That played a big part in my life," Mr. Scott said. "I was scared to go to school. ... I was really afraid. I know what trauma is."
He doesn't want his players to suffer that way. "I started this coaching to give the kids an opportunity ... to give love back to them because I knew in the streets there is no love," he said. He and his wife have been subsidizing the team but have started a GoFundMe account to raise money for uniforms for the players and cheerleaders.
Without counseling and other services, traumatized children can end up getting kicked out of school or even locked up for misbehavior. That has happened to generations of children in New Orleans, perpetuating a cycle of violence and heartache. We can't let that continue.
The Children and Youth Planning Board seems perfect for this mission. The Legislature established youth planning boards in 2004 to help reduce the state's juvenile jail population. The City Council created the New Orleans board that year. Essentially every group that deals with youngsters is represented on it.
The planning board is headed by Paulette Carter, executive director of the Children's Bureau of New Orleans, which provides trauma counseling in the city. It includes members from the Metropolitan Human Services District, Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, United Way of Southeast Louisiana, the state Department of Children and Family Services, the state Office of Juvenile Justice, the Orleans Parish School Board, the District Attorney's Office, Juvenile Court, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, the New Orleans Police Department and the City Council, among others.
Ms. Carter said Thursday that her agency provided treatment to 1,000 children in the past year. In 2017, the Metropolitan Human Services District treated 849 children in its clinics, with an additional 1,200 youngsters treated by contractors they pay.
But that is not nearly enough.
Surveys by the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies have found high rates of mental health disorders, PTSD and depression among New Orleans children. One in five children surveyed in and around Central City since 2016 had witnessed a murder.
City Council members deserve credit for making trauma counseling services a priority. The council approved a resolution two weeks ago urging all city schools to adopt the trauma-informed methods being used by 11 city schools. The emphasis is on helping traumatized children cope with anxiety, so they can function in school, rather than suspending or expelling them.
"This council is going to keep talking about trauma until it is front of mind for every single person in this community, because it is going to create a different 300 years," Councilman Jason Williams said Thursday.
The council chambers were full of people there to support children who've been traumatized by violence. "Oftentimes, when we talk about children's issues in this chamber it is completely empty," Williams said. "This is very impressive. It is very hopeful for the children of this city."
It is a hopeful moment, but it will take all of us to truly bring about change.
"I'm their guardian for the few hours they're with me," Coach Scott said at Thursday's council meeting.
We should all look at the city's children as if we are their guardians. And we should be ready to do everything we can to keep violence from derailing their lives.